NEW YORK — The arrest of a Wall Street Journal reporter on espionage charges in Russia has caused news organizations based outside the country to reconsider for the second time in a year whether the risks of reporting there during wartime are too great.
The Journal and other news outlets continued to push for Evan Gershkovich’s release Friday. Russian security officials detained him a day earlier and charged him with spying, charges the newspaper vehemently denies.
More than 30 press freedom groups and news organizations, including the Journal, The New York Times, BBC, The Associated Press, The New Yorker, Time and The Washington Post, signed a letter Friday to Anatoly I. Antonov, ambassador of Russia in the US, expressing concern about “a significant escalation in his government’s anti-press actions”.
“Russia is sending the message that journalism within its borders is criminalized and that foreign correspondents seeking to report from Russia do not enjoy the benefits of the rule of law,” they said.
A New York Times reporter temporarily in Moscow, Valerie Hopkins, left after Gershkovich’s arrest, the newspaper said.
“This is a significant change, and many of the media outlets that have kept journalists there will be watching with alarm,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chairwoman of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group that promotes freedom and safety. from the press.
Gershkovich’s arrest comes a year after the Russian government, shortly after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, imposed tough new restrictions on journalists that threatened to punish reporting that ran counter to its version of events. of the Kremlin, even forbidding the use of the word “war”. to describe the conflict.
As a result, some news organizations have recalled their journalists. Some of those journalists later returned when it became clear that the restrictions were aimed primarily at Russians.
A freelance Russian journalist, Andrey Novashov, was sentenced to eight months of “correctional labour” for allegedly reporting false information about the Russian military, CPJ said. Ilya Krasilshchik, a former editor of the Latvian-based news site Meduza, was indicted on a similar charge but has left the country, CPJ said.
Hundreds of Russian journalists have left the country, Ginsberg said.
To date, the advocacy group said it was not aware of any non-Russian journalists arrested or prosecuted under those laws. Gershkovich was detained on separate espionage charges.
“Almost all of the foreign correspondents who are still there are either preparing to leave, or are considering it very seriously at the moment,” said Ann Cooper, former Moscow bureau chief for National Public Radio and former executive director of the Committee. for Protection. Journalists. Gershkovich’s arrest is “very disturbing and would make anyone uncomfortable,” she said.
“Each journalist and news organization has to weigh the circumstances and make their own decision,” Cooper said. “If I were an American correspondent based in Moscow right now, I don’t think I would stay.”
The New York Times does not have a reporter in Russia now, but has sent journalists, such as Hopkins, on regular assignments, a spokeswoman said. For Tuesday’s paper, Hopkins wrote about a single father who was convicted of discrediting the military and had his 13-year-old daughter placed in an orphanage in a case that grew out of an antiwar drawing he drew at school. .
One journalist who left and returned, Steve Rosenberg, the BBC’s Russia editor, tweeted that he was “shocked by what happened” to Gershkovich. His Twitter account did not say anything about his own condition and the BBC declined to comment on Friday.
CNN has rotated international correspondents such as Matthew Chance and Fred Pleitgen in and out of Russia for the past year, and Chance has been reporting from Moscow on Gershkovich’s arrest. The network declined to say more about its staffing plans in the country.
“We are concerned about the news coming out of Russia and are closely monitoring the situation there,” he said in a statement.
The Washington Post has three journalists reporting on Russia, Robyn Dixon, Mary Ilyushina and Francesca Ebel, but will not comment on their whereabouts, a spokeswoman said. Dixon wrote about Gershkovich’s arrest in Latvia. In a memo announcing Ebel’s hiring last fall, the Post said his Russian team is working from outside the country.
The Associated Press story on Gershkovich’s arrest, as well as a separate profile of the journalist, were unsigned and undated. The AP is not discussing the movements of his staff for security reasons, but he “maintains a presence” in Russia, spokeswoman Lauren Easton said.
Bloomberg News pulled its reporters out of Russia last year, with editor-in-chief John Micklethwait telling staff members that the new laws appear “designed to turn any freelance reporter into a criminal simply by association.” Bloomberg reporters have not returned to the country, a spokeswoman said Friday.
Even journalists who fled Russia last year continued to report on the country, taking advantage of technology unavailable to earlier-generation predecessors: the internet, encrypted communications and cellphone cameras in the hands of millions of potential witnesses.
Still, Ginsberg said, “technology is never a substitute for being there.”